The Downward Spiral
After I mentally deconverted, my life spiraled down into darkness. I felt like I was being suffocated. Being a silent dissenter in the church was devastating to me. I had to constantly listen to people speaking ill of “The World”, I had to constantly hear about how terrible it is for parents when their children deconvert and I constantly had to face up to the fact that the Seventh Day Adventist church is exclusive. I could see all of the ways the church keeps itself exclusive, and I was forced to engage in it. It was a bitter reminder, day-after-day, that when it came time for me to leave, that I would be ostracized.
The darkness was quite shocking to me. That is really the best way to describe it; darkness. I quickly lost my innocence towards the world. One year previous, I was ridiculously happy as a Seventh Day Adventist. I had a purpose in life, and I was chosen by God. I had a family that supported me and loved me. My life was perfect. And then, simply by deciding that God isn’t true – I lost it all. And I had to face up to the dark side of the church, as face up to the fact that a lot had been going on that I chose to gloss over and ignore. In the past, when the church culture was destructive, I swept in under the rug; after all, we were the chosen remnant. But now I didn’t have an incentive to do that, and the controlling and scary culture became apparent. It tore my world apart.
Initially I was OK with living an Adventist life, and being a silent deconverter. But I knew that I eventually wanted to leave. And so to leave, I had to start building my non-SDA life. Not only this, but being immersed in Adventist culture and having to pretend to believe things I found abhorrent (and frankly deeply offensive) was taking its toll on me. And so I began to do more and more things that were not in-step with Adventism. I began to take more risks, and I began to disengage with the church. I began to question more, and I just started to shut off. My family noticed this.
The most horrific moments of my time as a silent deconverter were when my family members would catch me doing something that made them question my faith. They would take away or threaten to burn my items/books that they found “satanic”. They would read and listen to my personal correspondence as they got suspicious, and they would watch me carefully. My mother watched me the most; she would question me, and push me for answers when she thought I was hiding something that might show I was questioning/disobeying the Adventist faith. I would give an answer, but she would keep questioning and keep pushing – it made me terrified. We had a game of cat-and-mouse. She knew, I knew she knew, though she didn’t think I knew. If I was skipping Sabbath secretly, she would call my cell phone and ask questions about my meetings and my nature walks. She was looking for the final piece of evidence to clinch it, to prove I was not keeping the faith – something she would admit to me later in life.
Occasionally I slipped up. When I slipped up, an “intervention meeting” would be called. A few happened in the time I lived with my parents. It would go like this;
- I would be called to the family room. It was always in a particular tone. I knew that an intervention meeting was about to be held, and I knew that the only thing I wanted to do was run away and never come back.
- I would go there, and my immediate family would be in there. I would be asked to sit down. They generally sat in a semi-circle, surrounding me. They would all look at me. It was not really a look of sadness; it was a look of shock and judgement.
- They would then tell me the offence they had caught me out on. They would then ask the question; “Are you still a Seventh Day Adventist?”
- I always, internally, had a huge desire to scream and say “No! No I am not!” But my sense of rationality would stop me. I had to live with these people. And so I would strongly deny it.
- I would then work overtime in my head to come up with an excuse; any excuse. I had half a second to come up with an answer against this very damning offence. I always managed to do it; I played upon every soft spot that I could, and usually turned the situations on its head.
- I would be bombarded with questions, from any of the family members, and it was open season. They would stare at me, throwing accusations my way. And I had to answer them all, and defend my Adventist faith. Tears would be involved, and people would cry.
- The tone is something I cannot begin to describe. The feeling in the air was traumatizing. I felt like someone had their hands around my throat, slowly suffocating me.
- Eventually, I would get angry and just leave. I would storm out, telling them they were wrong. I would lock myself in my room and not come out for the rest of the night. My heart thumped, and I was probably sweating. I was terrified, feeling enclosed in darkness.
These “intervention meetings” are very common amongst dissenting children in the Adventist world, and they are very traumatizing. The day after, we would not talk about them, and it was as though they never happened.
Being a teenager, I had no way to support myself financially. I could not move out of home. And so I had to continue to live in this environment, and so to survive I simply learned to hide. Whenever I came home my body would tense up, and I lived in fear.
Discovering my dysfunctional childhood
A lot of bad, immoral things happened in my household. A lot of bitter conflict, a lot of fighting went on. It was partially fueled by dysfunctional personalities, but largely enabled by Adventism. Screaming matches would occur nightly (rare night that nothing happened) between my parents and siblings over small things, such as music, jewellery, makeup, movies and clothes (clothing which, in modern society, would be considered beyond normal and perfectly modest) as my siblings started to push the boundaries of conservative Adventism (but continued to remain exclusive and retain a lot of their conservative traits). I would lock myself in my room, hide my face in a pillow and cry. All of this went on before I deconverted; but I let it go. After all, it doesn’t really matter, does it? My parents were probably right… they deserved it! We are the chosen remnant! Little did I know this was happening to countless other Adventist children too, and it was not normal.
Things much worse than words were thrown at each other (things I could never tell publically); but like every good SDA family we were instructed to not tell anyone. What happens in this house stays in this house. I chose to not adhere to that rule. Of course, check-ups would occur. “You don’t tell anyone about what we do/say, do you?” “Of course not!” “Good; people from the world wouldn’t understand.” It was not just my parents that told me this – I would hear a similar line all throughout the Adventist church. We needed to put on a good show for non-believers.
When I deconverted, I naturally started to open up. I didn’t open up because I thought that what was going on was bad. The only reason I opened up at all was because, as I had now deconvertered, I decided to start talking about my household, no matter how “minor” I thought the frustration was. So after one particularly bad morning, I came to class and started to vent about what had happened that morning. I did it so casually. As I vented, my friends eyes started to bug up. They looked at me, wide-eyed, and told me they were shocked. They told me that the events I was describing in my house weren’t normal, and were in fact abusive. They started to watch out for me, and encourage me to spend more and more time away from my house.
All the while, my family would try and wrap their hands around my throat. Despite our toxic relationships, my parents would complain and yell that we never spent time together as a family. As I started to realise how dysfunctional our household was, I became stunned that they seemed confused that we weren’t close. How could we be close, when we lived in such an awful environment? I pulled away from them as far as I could, and I stopped interacting with Adventists as much as I could. I built and nurtured my non-SDA social network.